WASHINGTON -- Losing teams are bringing out the worst in the St. Louis Cardinals at a most inopportune time.
Adam Wainwright struggled for five innings and the Cardinals lost again, falling to Washington 4-2 Sunday and dropping five games behind Cincinnati in the NL Central.
The Cardinals are 2-5 -- against last-place teams Pittsburgh and Washington -- on their 10-game road trip. In August, St. Louis is 5-10 against teams with records under .500.
"I'm not saying [Washington is] a bad team because they're a dangerous team, but teams with sub-.500 records, we played terrible against all year," Wainwright said. "We just did it again today and in this series, too. When we hit, we don't pitch. When we pitch, we don't hit. Sometimes, we do both and the other team just beats us."
Wainwright (17-9) failed in his third bid to become the NL's first 18-game winner. The Nationals tagged him for four runs on six hits and three walks in five innings.
"I try to be the stopper not the guy who continues the losing," said Wainwright, whose ERA has increased from a league-leading 1.99 to 2.30 in his last three starts.
John Lannan drove in two early runs, then pitched shutout ball into the seventh inning to give the Nationals their first consecutive wins since July 30-31.
"They've outplayed us," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said. "When you get outplayed, you get beat and outmanaged. We're all a part of it."
Michael Morse hit a two-run homer. Morse had seven straight hits, one short of tying the franchise record, before a flyout in the fifth.
"Things went our way. Our bats are coming alive, especially in clutch times in the game," said Morse. Washington outscored St. Louis 31-21 over the four-game series.
Lannan (6-6) won for the fourth time in five starts. The left-hander allowed a run on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings, walked none and struck out four.
"There's still room for improvement," Lannan said. "The last two years, I've been at the same point and now it's time to move past that mentally and get better."
The Cardinals hit only two fly-ball outs against Lannan, who induced groundouts and popups aplenty.
The rookie right-hander opened up the ninth inning by sailing a pitch behind Matt Holliday, and both benches were warned.
La Russa was irate that Storen wasn't promptly ejected, since both managers met before the game with crew chief Joe West after Saturday night's game, in which Washington's Nyjer Morgan ran into Cardinals catcher Bryan Anderson in front of home plate while trying to score.
"Here's a guy that's got a single and double and they throw the ball behind him," La Russa said. "There was going to be no ifs, ands or buts, but the pitch got away. ... If you don't have that kind of command and don't do that intentionally, you don't belong in this league."
Lannan staked himself to a 2-0 lead with a two-run double in the second. With runners on first and second and two down, Lannan lined a double to left that spun away from Holliday for his first extra-base hit of the season.
Morse's two-run shot made it 4-0 in the third. With two down, Adam Dunn walked and Morse hit Wainwright's first pitch into the left-field stands for his 10th home run.
Morse nearly matched the team mark of eight straight hits set by Andre Dawson in 1983 and tied by Dmitri Young in 2007.
In the Cardinals seventh, Holliday led off with a double and later scored on a Jon Jay's groundout.
Holliday has an 11-game hitting streak. ... Morgan was held out of the lineup by manager Jim Riggleman so St. Louis wouldn't retaliate against him. "If Nyjer was playing today, he'd get hit. If an opposing player did that to my catcher and he came to the plate, he'd get hit," Riggleman said. Riggleman and many Nationals players apologized to Anderson and La Russa for what Riggleman called an "unprofessional" play, but Morgan did not, contending that he was deked by a faked throw from first baseman Albert Pujols. ... C Yadier Molina returned to the Cardinals lineup after missing two games with swelling in his right knee. ... St. Louis LHP Dennys Reyes, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained left elbow, threw on flat ground Sunday, but his reactivation isn't imminent, La Russa said.